LIVE REVIEW: blink-182 – AO Arena, Manchester – 15/10/2023

Promo image of blink-182
blink-182 (Credit: Jack Bridgland)

“Hey, Tom’s back in the band!” declares Mark Hoppus partway through blink-182’s set. It’s one of only a couple of allusions made to undoubtedly the biggest development within their ranks in recent years—Tom DeLonge rejoining the fold, and thus returning one of pop-punk’s all-time conquerors to their iconic lineup. You could make the argument that that’s what sent the hype mill for this tour into overdrive. Sure, blink-182 would be capable of knocking out a world tour regardless nowadays, but it likely wouldn’t feel like this much of an event. Right now, they’re drawing towards the close of the UK and European leg with the first of two Manchester shows, as well as having a brand new album just on the horizon. From the perspective of someone on the ground, there hasn’t been this much fervour around blink-182 in a long, long time.

It’s certainly not the openers tipping the scales anyway, at least not in these circumstances. Whereas other territories have been lucky enough to have Turnstile or Rise Against, Europe has had The Story So Far, arguably among the least interesting of the world tour’s support suite, and a band firmly on the wane whose best days are now a good five-to-ten years behind them. Sadly, that’s only half of where they fall today, as they’re exceptionally quick to get swallowed up by a venue of this size. The poor mix is evident right from the jump (though it does improve somewhat as things go on), especially in a vocal echo that has Parker Cannon fighting to get a coherent word out half the time. That only exacerbates what already feels like a pretty lacklustre pop-punk enterprise. The energy that’s required just isn’t supplied when it’s demanded, doubly so when there’s a hardcore impulse indulged in. Rather, Cannon spends his time primarily still, spotlit and perched at the head of the diamond-shaped stage. Throw in a cover of Millencolin’s No Cigar that rockets over the heads of basically everyone here today, and a lacking showcase couldn’t be more evident.

It becomes even more galling next to how energy in the room shifts for blink-182’s arrival. The fanfare of Also sprach Zarathustra (or the main motif of 2001: A Space Odyssey, in layman’s terms) is suitably bombastic entrance music, particularly for the reconciliation that they’re so eager to show off. And right from the opening notes of Anthem Part Two, it’s evident that the Mark, Tom & Travis Show is back and firing on all cylinders. There’s an interplay present throughout that’s been missing as a key ingredient—Mark Hoppus as the more vibrant, kinetic livewire; Tom DeLonge, more in tune with an element of showmanship and posturing that serves as a handy foil; and Travis Barker, the drum maestro who’s clearly yet to grasp the concept of getting tired with how much of an unstoppable force behind the kit he is. Seriously, the live flowers frequently go to Barker, but it can’t be understated how vital he is in this unit; you’re not seeing other drummers carry on while their bandmate wraps a towel around their eyes, but the second half of Violence is just that.

More so than all of that though, there’s a return to the camaraderie that that elevates this so much more. When Matt Skiba was onstage, there was a salaryman presence of someone who wasn’t entirely flush with the space he’d be offered; with DeLonge, there’s no readjustment period whatsoever. It helps when neither he nor Hoppus are really the straight man in their dynamic. The overwhelmingmajority of between-song chatter is sex jokes, presumably to recapture the boyish crudeness of the past, and while not all of them land, the intent is there. When they do, there’s a natural riotousness that both men bring that feels entirely re-informed by DeLonge’s presence. Now especially, he feels like the face of the band.

He’s also the third turning cog in a live sense that Skiba never was. His presence musically is such an integral part of what this group is all about, which is especially evident after a few years’ distance from these songs that immediately click back into position. After all, I Miss You just isn’t the same without an extra ten syllables wedged into its “Where are you?”, is it? But more than that, the attempt to segment the last few DeLonge-less years does feel noteworthy. There’s barely anything from the Skiba era aired—nothing from Nine and only one from California. That’s Bored To Death, a song which, to be perfectly honest, sounds just as good with DeLonge’s vocals in place of Skiba’s. Maybe it’s there to test the waters to dip into that well more in future, but right now, the primary focus comes in the stuff that everyone knows and loves. The final run of about eleven songs is effectively a recap of the GOATed hits of blink-182’s catalogue, with a triple-header of What’s My Age Again?, All The Small Things and Dammit taking pride of place and sounding as phenomenal as always.

Even the new material works to a similar standard, grouped together mid-set as a primer for what’s to come in a week’s time, while also fielding the warm reception of to-be hits that could easily slot in anywhere. Dance All Night in particular has the pogoing, arena-ready that the best blink-182 hits do; the “Olé, olé, olé, olé” refrain carries a lot of weight, but the band themselves hardly slouch either. There’s genuine joy beaming from them at every moment, arguably more palpably than ever. You feel in when Hoppus discusses his cancer diagnosis before Adam’s Song, a rare oasis of poignancy in this set, but one that never feels diminished or like an awkward gear shift compared to what’s around it. When he says the band and making music saved his life, there’s the weight of experience in his voice that really strikes a chord, arguably more so than anything else. Similarly, when One More Time closes on the set’s most stripped-down, exhaling note, it’s a moment of clarity and duly-deserved celebration of this band, rather than anything close to a momentum killer.

Because at the end of the day, blink-182 do deserve to be celebrated. They’ve stuck it out this long, now back to their unshakable core trio, and are still unmistakably loved for doing so. The big theatrical moments are all well and good—the inflatable ambulance that rises and bounces around on Dumpweed; the giant rabbit rising from the backing screens on What’s My Age Again?; the hanging drum platform that rises on Down and stays suspended for most of the set’s duration—but it’s the songs and the humanity that do the most. Especially now, returning to a dynamic that was so formative for so many here tonight, there’s none of the arena-rock artifice or manufactured distance. From top to bottom, it’s fun, refreshed, and maybe the most electrified blink-182 have been in ages.

Words by Luke Nuttall

One thought

  1. Reunited pop-punk icons Blink-182 will be back on the road in the summer of 2024 with a stadium and arena tour through North America in support of their just-released album, “One More Time.”

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